Reservoirs by R.S. Thomas

There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of a people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even;

The serenity of their expression

Revolts me, it is a pose

For strangers, a watercolour’s appeal

To the mass, instead of the poem’s

Harsher conditions. There are the hills,

Too; gardens gone under the scum

Of the forests; and the smashed faces

Of the farms with the stone trickle

Of their tears down the hills’ side.

 

Where can I go, then, from the smell

Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead

Nation? I have walked the shore

For an hour and seen the English

Scavenging among the remains

Of our culture, covering the sand

Like the tide and, with the roughness

Of the tide, elbowing our language

Into the grave that we have dug for it.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Not That He Brought Flowers (1968)


Ronald Stuart Thomas (29 March 1913 – 25 September 2000), published as R. S. Thomas, was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who was noted for his nationalism, spirituality and deep dislike of the anglicisation of Wales. M. Wynn Thomas said: “He was the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn of Wales because he was such a troubler of the Welsh conscience.”

R. S. Thomas believed in what he called “the true Wales of my imagination”, a Welsh-speaking aboriginal community that was in tune with the natural world. He viewed western (specifically English) materialism and greed, represented in the poetry by his mythical “Machine”, as the destroyers of community. He could tolerate neither the English who bought up Wales, and in his view stripped it of its wild and essential nature, nor the Welsh whom he saw as all too eager to kowtow to English money and influence.

As Capel Celyn was flooded in 1965 it’s almost certain one of the resevoirs referred to in this poem is this lost community. Capel Celyn was a rural community to the north west of Bala in Gwynedd, north Wales, in the Afon Tryweryn valley. The village and other parts of the valley were flooded to create a reservoir, Llyn Celyn, in order to supply Liverpool and Wirral with water for industry. The village contained, among other things, a chapel, as the name suggests, capel being Welsh for chapel, while celyn is Welsh for holly.

Advertisements

A Dream of Horses by Gillian Clarke

I dreamed a gallop across sand

in and out the scallop of the tide

on a colourless horse as cold as a seal.

 

My hair and the mane of the horse

are the long white manes of the sea.

Every breath is a gulp of salt.

 

Now we are ocean. His hoof-prints

are pools, his quivering skin

the silk in the trough of the wave.

 

His muscular ellipses are

the sinuous long water of the sea

and I swim with the waves in my arms.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from New Poems

In Great Waters by R. S. Thomas

You are there also

at the foot of the precipice

of water that was too steep

for the drowned: their breath broke

and they fell. You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross. The sand crumbles

like bread; the wine is

the light quietly lying

in its own chalice. There is

a sacrament there more beauty

than terror whose ministrant

you are and the aisles are full

of the sea shapes coming to its celebration.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Frequencies (1978)

‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

Ears In The Turrets Hear by Dylan Thomas

Ears in the turrets hear

Hands grumble on the door,

Eyes in the gables see

The fingers at the locks.

Shall I unbolt or stay

Alone till the day I die

Unseen by stranger-eyes

In this white house?

Hands, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Beyond this island bound

By a thin sea of flesh

And a bone coast,

The land lies out of sound

And the hills out of mind.

No birds or flying fish

Disturbs this island’s rest.

 

Ears in this island hear

The wind pass like a fire,

Eyes in this island see

Ships anchor off the bay.

Shall I run to the ships

With the wind in my hair,

Or stay till the day I die

And welcome no sailor?

Ships, hold you poison or grapes?

 

Hands grumble on the door,

Ships anchor off the bay,

Rain beats the sand and slates.

Shall I let in the stranger,

Shall I welcome the sailor,

Or stay till the day I die?

 

Hands of the stranger and holds of the ships,

Hold you poison or grapes?

 

by Dylan Thomas


The poem read by the Welsh actor Philip Maddoc:

‘Let Any, Who Will, Still Bask In The South…’ by Anna Akhmatova

“You are with me once more, Autumn my friend!”

Annensky

 

Let any, who will, still bask in the south

On the paradisal sand,

It’s northerly here – and this year of the north

Autumn will be my friend.

 

I’ll live, in a dream, in a stranger’s house

Where perhaps I have died,

Where the mirrors keep something mysterious

To themselves in the evening light.

 

I shall walk between black fir-trees,

Where the wind is at one with the heath,

And a dull splinter of the moon will glint

Like an old knife with jagged teeth.

 

Our last, blissful unmeeting I shall bring

To sustain me here –

The cold, pure, light flame of conquering

What I was destined for.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1957)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas